It Is Okay to Simply Be
Wisdom from Ellul for doers like me.
Philosopher Jacques Ellul writes on pages 76-78 of his book The Presence of the Kingdom:
We have lost the meaning of true action, which is the testimony of a profound life, action which comes from the heart, which is the product of faith, and not of myth or of propaganda, or of Mammon! What matters is to live, and not to act. In this world, this is a revolutionary attitude, for the world only desires (utilitarian) action and has no desire for life at all. We cannot exaggerate the significance of the fact of being spiritually alive. We must cease to believe that life depends only on vitamins, hormones, and physical culture. We must get rid of the idea of “the sound mind in the sound body,” which is only another way of getting rid of “life” for the sake of action.
To be alive means the total situation of man as he is confronted by God; this is precisely what our world wants to forget, and whats to make us forget.
When I speak of “life” I am not thinking of some esoteric mysticism or vitalistic theory of hermetic philosophy. I simply mean the expression of the Holy Spirit, working within us, expressing himself in our actual life, through our words, our habits, and our decisions. Thus what we need is to rediscover all that the fullness of personal life means for a man standing on his own feet in the midst of the world, who rediscovers his neighbor because he himself has been found by God. In the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit we receive the answer to this work of God, and we are bewildered because we are no longer very sure about the way forward, which no longer depends upon us.
I was sick for basically the whole month of November. I had a nasty cold that turned into a sinus infection and an ear infection that simply would not go away until the end of Thanksgiving weekend with the help of some steroids and a second round of antibiotics.
On top of that, this period from Thanksgiving through the end of the year is my absolute favorite. It’s an odd time of year, though. It’s super busy with all kinds of holiday events and travel. It’s usually a slow time of year at work, especially because my employer gives us the last two weeks of December off. And it is historically a time for me to mentally and physically relax, even amid the hustle of the holidays. I recently heard someone say that the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is like the Friday afternoon of the calendar year, which seems right. And that week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is the Saturday of the calendar year.
At the same time, this time of year has always been a crucible of creativity for me. For some reason I always think of new ideas (and sometimes pursue them) around the Christmas season. And coming off a month of sickness that sapped virtually all of my creative energy has supercharged that feeling—I want to create a lot right now, because I basically couldn’t the whole last month. The long drive home to Tennessee from Indiana two weekends ago lit all kinds of creative fires in my brain, none of which I probably need to act on right now, but that will smolder nonetheless, waiting for me to stoke them.
So I find myself a bit conflicted. Right now, I want so badly to be creatively productive, to make significant progress on the novel I barely got to touch in November because of being sick, or to jump into the ideas I played with on our drive home from Thanksgiving.
This is where I am struck by Ellul’s quote above, which I initially read months ago, but feels especially timely now.
Ellul reminds me in this selection from The Presence of the Kingdom that to be alive, to be, does not require some kind of action from me. It is good to simply be and not do all the time. I think in my constant creative strivings of many kinds, it can be easy for me to begin to see what I do as definitive of who I am. As a measure of my life. Perhaps you feel this, too, in one way or another.
Even now, I feel the shadows of burnout creeping up on me. I’ll have a “top reads of 2022” newsletter next week to round out the year, but you won’t hear from me until January after that. And then we’ll have a new book of mine to begin talking about!
Let me encourage you this Christmas season to be more and maybe not do so much. I am going to try to remember, as Ellul says, that the way forward doesn’t depend so much on me as the Holy Spirit’s work in me.
Thanks for reading Terms of Service with Chris Martin. You can subscribe here.